No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Monday, June 20, 2011

2011/23: When Will There Be Good News? -- Kate Atkinson

Jackson Brodie had cared about missing girls, he wanted them all found. Louise didn't want them to get lost in the first place. There were a lot of ways of getting lost, not all of them involved being missing. Not all of them involved hiding, sometimes women got lost right there in plain sight. Alison Needler, making accommodations, disappearing inside her own marriage, a little more every day. Jackson's sister stepping off a bus and stepping out of her life one evening in the rain. (p.170-1)

Thirty years before the start of the novel, Joanna Mason was six years old. A stranger murdered her mother and brother as they walked back from the bus stop: her mother's last words were "Run, Joanna, run!" She ran: she survived.

Now the murderer is due to be released from prison -- the event that precipitates everything that happens in When Will There Be Good News?.

Jackson Brodie is travelling north when his journey's interrupted in the most catastrophic of ways. As he wavers in and out of consciousness, his fragmented memories patch over the events subsequent to Case Histories. Jackson's life has changed drastically: yet, as in Atkinson's other novels, everything is connected and one of his earliest triumphs, his earliest 'lost girls', is about to re-enter his life.

There's a plethora of mistaken identities: there are kind lies (it's easier for one character to describe her mother without mentioning that she's not actually alive), and deceptions more cold-blooded and considered. Atkinson's characters are richly individual (and that includes their narrative voices: Louise Monroe's run-on sentences in the quotation that heads this review reveal a personality quite different to hard-boiled orphan Reggie or Jackson Brodie's protective armour.

There's also a great deal about parents and parenthood: Joanna Mason lost her mother in the most appallingly abrupt way, and that experience has altered her own attitudes to motherhood. Reggie lost her mother in a ludicrously random accident: she never lets her mother-figures realise what they are. Possibly doesn't realise it herself.

I'm not 100% sure I made sense of the logistics of the final twist, but all the better: it'll keep me thinking. Not that there's a dearth of thought-provoking material -- connections, observations, coincidences that aren't wholly random -- in any Kate Atkinson novel: that's what makes her one of my favourite contemporary crime writers.

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